Future pharma: Making the most of the tablet takeover

*Andrew Tolve explores how pharma firms are using the iPad 2 and other tablets to maximize sales and marketing potential*

Andrew Tolve explores how pharma firms are using the iPad 2 and other tablets to maximize sales and marketing potential

Pharma has proved eager to take its tablets, using the iPad similar devices to sharpen sales and marketing efforts. (For more on pharmas use of the iPad, see Will the iPad kickstart a pharma sales and marketing revolution?.)

Now, the industry will have even more tablets, with more functionality, from which to choose.

In March, Apple released its much-hyped iPad 2 and Motorola unveiled its Motorola Xoom. Research in Motion has promised a Blackberry tablet in 2011, and Google and Microsoft are rumored to have devices on the way as well.

Gartner forecasts that worldwide sales will total 54.8 million units in 2011, up 181 percent from 2010, and will surpass 208 million units in 2014.

Many of these devices will be destined for the business sector.

Apple recently announced that 65 percent of Fortune 100 companies are using or testing iPads for company use.

Indeed, some big-name companies have already integrated the iPad into their sales forces, like Abbott and Medtronic.

Everyone is reluctant to take the first step, but everyone is equally afraid of being the last one to the party, says Bill Drummy, CEO of Heartbeat Ideas, a firm that specializes in marketing solutions for the health, wellness, and beauty sectors.

Thats the way it works in pharma. Over the coming year, well see a wave build with tablets from early adopters to broad use.

Accordingly, those companies that get tablets into the field first will enjoy a competitive advantage.

Stephen Prentice, a vice president at Gartner, says this message needs to resonate all the way up to senior management.

It is not usually the role of the CEO to get directly involved in specific technology device decisions, but Apples iPad is an exception, he says.

It is more than just the latest consumer gadget, and CEOs and business leaders should initiate a dialogue with their CIOs if they have not already done so.

Pharma as early adopter

When the iPad first launched, some pundits wrote it off as an unnecessary addition to the digital arsenal.

People had smartphones. People had laptops. Why would they need a blend of the two?

As it turns out, the device completely re-imagined the digital experience, making it more mobile, personalized, dynamic, and interactive.

Consumers jumped at the iPad, quickly making it the most successful launch of a computer product of all time. Healthcare professionals were among the earliest adopters.

The idea of walking around with a super intelligent clipboard that can hold apps, patient records, and other helpful data is very appealing and intuitive to them, says Drummy.

Hospitals, like Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, have started using the iPad to explain conditions and procedures to patients through diagrams and animations.

Some physicians are uncomfortable with a laptop and yet theyll grab an iPad straight out of your hand, says David Hunt, digital director of Creative Lynx, a UK digital design and marketing agency.

We thought the iPad was an innovative new device but did not fully appreciate just how popular it would be with healthcare professionals.

At a time when pharma companies struggle to capture physician interest and access, the iPad creates a new way to detail products on a device physicians are eager to use.

Plus, from pharmas perspective, the iPad is lighter, faster, more mobile, and a heck of a lot cheaper than tablet PCs, which can run up to $5,000 a device after all the software is added on. The entry-level iPod 2 is around $700.

Thats basically nothing, says Drummy. Two sales calls and the thing is paid for.

In addition, the iPad makes it easier to collect backend data in real time, and it allows reps to detail products on the gofor instance, while walking side-by-side with a physician in a hospital corridor.

Thats a really subtle but important psychological difference, says Drummy. Now the physician and rep are on the same side. (For more on e-detailing, see Nurses and physician assistants: A new pharma marketing channel.)

While there are no certainties, the iPad looks set to become a market-disrupting device, like the iPod before it, says Prentice.

Even if you think it is just a passing fad, the cost of early action is low, while the price of delay may well be extremely high.

The potential for pharma sales and marketing

As our understanding of what tablets are becomes clearer, it seems theyll fill two primary roles in the pharma sales and marketing apparatus.

The first is conventional product detailing.

Reps can walk into an office, take out their iPads (which, unlike tablet PCs, turns on instantly) and then use them to elucidate their products distinguishing characteristics.

Physicians not only can hold the tablet in their hands while presentations unfold, but they can choreograph the show themselves, clicking on particular facets of a drug and exploring material in the order they want.
In fact, you can take the sales rep out of the equation entirely.

As physicians use iPads on their own time and at home (data has shown an evening spike in physician use), pharma companies can target them with ads that transform into animations that bring the drug to life.

The iPad is a much bigger opportunity than a shiny laptop, says Hunt.

Where it gets exciting is how we start to use these new features and make the most of GPS, connectivity, and the new method of interaction.

We really have to re-imagine the experience and the software, Drummy agrees.

Tablets in the clinical setting

The second use for iPads is to extend pharmas reach into clinical settings.

As physicians use tablets more frequently on the job, theyll be receptive to apps that make their jobs easier, more efficient, and more accurate.

This year Alivecor unveiled its ECG app, which turns an iPad or iPhone into an electrocardiogram device.

Physicians can measure a heartbeat by simply pressing the iPad against a patients chest.

Likewise, Johnson & Johnsons Psoriasis App, which Creative Lynx designed, gives dermatologists an easy and accurate way to calculate PASI scores during patient check-ups. (For more on pharma and apps, see Pharma goes mobile: Making the most of the app opportunity.)

Hunt reports that downloads for the app are comparable on the iPhone and the iPad, and that for other clinical apps Creative Lynx has designed, iPad downloads can exceed those for the iPhone.

I think the iPad has the potential to become intrinsic within healthcare, he says. If that happens, iPads may be qualified as a medical device. (For more on the integration of mobile devices into healthcare, see When does a smartphone become a medical device?.)

Those pharma companies that are foresighted in this respect can introduce apps now that will become indispensable down the road, thus creating greater brand loyalty.

They cant just be veiled as a sales app, says Drummy.

This is an opportunity to get doctors attention and get them engaged in way where theyll be more open to developing relationships and ultimately receiving brand messages. (For eyeforpharmas regular app reviews, see App review: Getting to grips with apps.)

Which tablet?

Such is the momentum behind the iPad and the greater tablet market, pharma companies cant afford to ignore the device.

Gartner recommends that CEOs ask their marketing and product development teams to present a creative briefing as soon as possible, detailing how iPads could be used by the company and its competitors.

Those companies that elect to introduce tablets into their sales forces should research the pros and cons of the iPad versus its competition.

General wisdom today has it that the only real rival to the iPad 2 is the Motorola Xoom, which has a bigger screen and higher resolution display without sacrificing battery life.

Down the line, however, more Android-based competitors will inevitably emerge, and its important to forecast what this might mean for initiatives in the short term.

Some experts believe Android tablets will prove more conducive to hospital settings because physicians will gravitate toward locked versions of Android for clinical use, as they allow for exclusive interaction with clinical information systems.

In this light, perhaps pharma companies should integrate the iPad into their sales forces but design clinical apps for both iPad and Android.

These are considerations IT departments and, down the road, marketers should mull over.

Ultimately, how much of the market the iPad controls versus other tablets is inconsequential.

What matters is that pharma embraces tablets to maximize the devices sales and marketing potential.

Tablets are taking over the market, and pharma must take all the necessary steps to capitalize, concludes Drummy.

For more on pharma and technology, join the sectors other key leaders at Sales Force Effectiveness USA on May 17-19 in New Brunswick, NJ.

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